Red Haired Boy
The song of the month for March is Red Haired Boy. Red Haired Boy is a two-part fiddle tune (AABB form) that is traditionally played in the key of A.
Like 'Soldier's Joy' and 'Temperance Reel', 'Red Haired Boy' is one of those handful of fiddle tunes that shows up not only at bluegrass jams, but also at old-time jams and at Irish sessions.
Here is an excellent bluegrass version of 'Red Haired Boy' to listen to, but which, unfortunately, has no banjo in it:
While 'Red Haired Boy' ranks high on the list of fiddle tunes commonly played at bluegrass jams, and has for quite sometime now, it was not until the 1960's that fiddle tunes of the 'notier' or 'Irish-sounding' type (of which 'Red Haired Boy' is one of the best examples) became popular in bluegrass circles. The two factors that contributed the most to this change were the introduction into bluegrass in the early 60's of Doc Watson's 'flatpicking' guitar style, and Bill Keith and Bobby Thompson's 'melodic' banjo style, for both of these styles lend themselves well to duplicating note-for-note, on guitar and banjo respectively, the types of fast-moving melody lines that fiddle tunes like 'Red Haired Boy' consist of.
Here is Bill Keith playing 'Red Haired Boy' and 'June Apple' (both in the key of G) in melodic style on banjo:
For those who may be interested, here is an Irish version of Red Haired Boy (key of A):
Red Haired Boy / Concertina Reel:
...and a version from the Clumsy Lovers, the Celtic-Bluegrass-Rock band that I have played banjo and mandolin in since 2001: This medley of tunes, which we call 'The Boycot' Set' begins and ends with 'Red Haired Boy' (key of A):
Like many of the pre-bluegrass fiddle tunes that are common in bluegrass circles, and almost always played as instrumentals (no singing) at bluegrass jams and on bluegrass recordings, there are lyrics for the tune of 'Red Haired Boy'. Versions with lyrics usually go by the name of 'The Little Beggarman' or 'The Jolly Beggarman', rather than by the name of 'Red Haired Boy', and are often sung and played in D rather than in A. Here is an example to listen to: definitely not a bluegrass version:
Makem & Clancy
The chord progression that we will use at the jam for Red Haired Boy is the one that I have found over the years to be the most common for the tune when played at bluegrass jams:
1 1/4 1 b7
1 1/4 1 5/1
b7 4 1 b7
1 1/4 1 5/1
(In the key of A: b7 = G. In the key of G: b7 = F.)
Notice that the chord progression for the B Part differs from that for the A Part only in the first one-and-a-half measures. The same is true of the melody of the tune. If you keep this in mind, it should be easier for you to learn the tune and to commit it to memory.
In the attachments, I have offered two melody sheets for Red Haired Boy: the first one has fewer notes than the second one. For those who have difficulty playing up-to-speed several measures of music in a row that consist mostly of 8th notes and for banjo players who do not have much experience playing in melodic-style, I recommend playing the first version of the melody, or something similar to it. For everyone else, I recommend playing the second version, or something similar to it, as your default version, and then using the first version as a guide to help you to eliminate some notes from the melody when you wish to do this for the sake of variation, so that all your breaks don't sound exactly the same.
Note: In the sheet music to tab 'conversion chart' for Red Haired Boy, the fretboard locations for the notes on banjo correspond to those that are needed for playing the tune in 'melodic' style, in which the objective is to avoid - whenever feasible - playing two consecutive notes on the same string when the first of the two notes is an 8th note. This is why the banjo tab on the conversion chart diverges from the guitar tab more so than what has usually been the case with conversion charts I have given for other songs in the past.
In the attachments, you might notice on the sheet music for Red Haired Boy that, although I have specified that the tune is written in the key of A, there are only two sharps in the key signature, instead of three. This is because the melody of Red Haired Boy does not use the A major scale, but rather uses the A mixolydian scale, which has for its seventh scale degree a G natural note rather than a G# note, and therefore consists of the same notes as the D major scale. If in listening to the tune in the links given here, you find that 'Red Haired Boy' sounds slightly 'minor' to your ear, the reason for this is because the seventh note of the scale that the tune uses is a half step lower than the seventh note of the major scale, but is in all other respects the same as the major scale.
'June Apple' is another fiddle tune in A that sometimes shows up at bluegrass jams that uses the mixolydian scale. 'Old Joe Clark', also in 'A', is another and more popular one that uses the mixolydian scale; though in the case of Old Joe Clark, many versions of the melody are not purely mixolydian, and the prominence of '5' chords in the backup for most versions tend to make Old Joe Clark sound less mixolydian than Red Haired Boy and June Apple. (The E major chord, which is the '5' chord in the key of A, contains a G# note.) The A-Part of 'Over The Waterfall' (key of D) also uses the mixolydian scale for its melody. All of these are old-time fiddle tunes. While there are many more mixolydian tunes besides these that are played old-time jams, and there is an abundance of traditional Scottish and Irish fiddle tunes in the mixolydian mode, most of these are never played at a typical bluegrass jam, and almost always prove to be 'jam-busters' when someone tries to introduce them into a bluegrass jam.
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